Panel to chart a course for Mirror Pond

It’s still going to be at least a few years before the silt that’s built up around the edges of Mirror Pond will be dug up and hauled away or redistributed to help develop new wildlife habitat areas.

But after years of planning, delays and unsuccessful funding attempts, officials say they’re making progress on the sediment problem at Bend’s iconic pond with the formation of a management group that will steer planning and fundraising efforts starting this summer. In a meeting this week, the Bend City Council is scheduled to appoint several members to the board, which will take the lead on the project that’s estimated to cost between $2 million and $5 million to complete.

The last time Mirror Pond was dredged, in 1984, it cost $312,000 and the effort was led by the city of Bend. But this time, the environmental regulations are more complicated and officials are looking for a better solution that will likely include more than just pulling sediment out of the pond. As a result, City Manager Eric King said the city is going to help coordinate the management board in its initial stages but will probably pull back and let a broader group coordinate the fix.

“We need to show some leadership in the community, to pull all the right people together and let the conversation happen,” King said of the city’s role in the project. “Then we’ll figure out who takes the baton and takes it to the next step.”

The management board will have representatives from the Bend City Council, Bend Park & Recreation District, Downtown Bend Business Association, Pacific Power, River West Neighborhood Association, Old Bend Neighborhood Association, Deschutes River Conservancy, Deschutes Basin Board of Control, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, and the Bend Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the board will have two at-large members who will be selected from six applications submitted to the city.

King said the group’s first task will be to take a close look at a report released this year by the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, which examined the silt buildup situation and suggested that initial planning for the project could take up to two years and cost $500,000. From there, he said the group needs to figure out exactly how much money it will probably cost to engineer and complete a solution — which could include a combination of dredging and creating new habitat areas.

He said the group should be ready by early next year with ideas about how to fund the project with local sources and requests for federal help.

We want to be positioned well for next year’s earmarking process,” King said.

In addition to figuring out how to pay for the project, the management board will have to wrangle with other challenges that weren’t as big of an issue the last time the pond was dredged. Councilor Jim Clinton, who served as the chairman of a Mirror Pond technical advisory group formed in 2006 to study the problem, said the city and other agencies involved in the project will have to hold public hearings and be careful to stay in line with a long list of environmental regulations.

All of the planning, he said, is probably more complicated than actually getting in and doing the work.

“I don’t think the projects that are envisioned there are a huge undertaking,” he said. “It’s just that life is a lot more complicated than it used to be in terms of planning that needs to be done, community involvement that needs to be done, satisfying all of the state and federal requirements.”

John Runyon, a senior manager and ecologist with ICF Jones & Stokes, a Portland firm that helped with the recent study, said the problem in Mirror Pond is going to continue to get worse if it’s left untouched. Over the next decade, he said, it’s likely that it could turn to mudflats and wetlands.

Mathias Perle, a project manager with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, said officials are aware of the ticking clock but also don’t want to rush the process just to get it done quickly. He said additional research done by the management group will probably make it more clear just how long it will take before the silt problem gets much worse.

“I think what the Watershed Council is interested in seeing is a solution that is sustainable both socially and environmentally, and however much time it takes, that’s how long it’s going to take to get it right,” he said. “We want to make sure it works for everybody at the table.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2009

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